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Rishi Sunak slams Scotland’s Hate Crime Act

(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Scotland’s Hate Crime Act has got off to a rather rocky start, to put it mildly. On Monday, when the bill came into force, renowned author JK Rowling took to Twitter to reiterate her concerns about how expressing gender critical views (namely, that biological sex is a reality) could be an offence under the new bill. Cue the pile on. And now even the Prime Minister has waded into the row.

Taking Rowling’s side, Rishi Sunak proclaimed last night that ‘people should not be criminalised for stating simple facts on biology’ while a government source told the Mail that with the bill comes the ‘potential for seriously chilling effects on free speech’. The PM’s intervention followed Rowling’s powerful Twitter tirade, where she posted a thread of trans women, referring to them at first as women before declaring: ‘April fools! Only kidding. Obviously, the people mentioned in the above tweets aren’t women at all, but men, every last one of them.’ 

The writer continued:

Freedom of speech and belief are at an end in Scotland if the accurate description of biological sex is deemed criminal. 

The new legislation is wide open to abuse by activists who wish to silence those of us speaking out about the dangers of eliminating women’s and girls’ single-sex spaces, the nonsense made of crime data if violent and sexual assaults committed by men are recorded as female crimes, the grotesque unfairness of allowing males to compete in female sports, the injustice of women’s jobs, honours and opportunities being taken by trans-identified men, and the reality and immutability of biological sex.

And she couldn’t quite resist goading the hate crime enforcers themselves, Police Scotland:

I’m currently out of the country, but if what I’ve written here qualifies as an offence under the terms of the new act, I look forward to being arrested when I return to the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment. #arrestme 

After Sunak showed his support for the author, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross followed suit. He tweeted today that ‘J. K. Rowling speaks for many people across Scotland’ and called the new Hate Crime Act an ‘attack on free speech and on women’s rights’. ‘That’s why the Scottish Tories opposed it,’ he added pointedly, a nod to the mysterious muteness that seems to have overcome the Scottish Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.

But dig a little deeper and the reason behind their reluctance to comment becomes clear. The majority of Scottish Labour’s MSPs voted for the bill, as did all 5 of the Scottish Liberal Democrat MSPs. Yet now that the Act has resulted in national outrage, the opposition parties have retreated to the sidelines, content to let the SNP take the heat. So very noble…

The controversial policy may have led to yet more internal difficulties for UK Labour, too. Another north-south split on hate crime could be on the cards: while Anas Sarwar’s party voted in favour of the Act, today shadow cabinet minister Pat McFadden has said that UK Labour is not planning on introducing a similar bill and that J. K. Rowling ‘shouldn’t be arrested’. Mr S suspects Starmer will be having strong words with Sarwar if his party doesn’t agree…

Not that the SNP is fully united on the issue either. Veteran SNP MP Joanna Cherry KC has also backed Rowling, tweeting that ‘many of us have legitimate concerns’ about vexatious complaints ‘being weaponised against women, who do not believe in gender identity theory and wish to exercise their right to explain why. As JK Rowling has done.’

Crikey. An Act that was brought in under the guise of stamping out hatred has, er, got everyone even more wound up than before. Not that the SNP is any stranger to causing divisions…

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Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

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